- Identify the potential sources of financial assistance and strategies for applying for financial aid and scholarships
When it comes to covering all the costs of college, depending on how much money you’ve saved beforehand, you will probably want to investigate one or more of the following options:
- Student loans: Students can apply for subsidized or unsubsidized loans through the government. Your college determines the amount of each type of loan offered to you. Subsidized loans allow you to defer payment until six months after your graduate, while unsubsidized loans still accrue interest while you’re in college. Students may also obtain private loans through their banks. However, these types of loans are typically subject to more interest. Check the U.S. Department of Education site for information on applying for different types of loans.
- Grants and scholarships: Grants and scholarships do not need to be paid back. Students can look for grant and scholarship options through the government, their schools, and their communities. Scholarships may be awarded on the basis of financial need, academic merit, or talent. You can visit your guidance counselor or financial aid office for listings of available grants and scholarships, or conduct independent research at sites like College Scholarships.
- Jobs: There are a number of paid work opportunities for college students, ranging from work study to on- and off-campus jobs and internships. If you have the time to commit to working while you’re in school, it’s worth investigating all of them. The topic of student job opportunities is covered at length later in this module.
Applying for Financial Aid
Applying for financial aid requires planning and organization. Below are steps you can take to increase your chances of getting help paying for college.
Complete the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA)
This free application asks students questions about their background, personal finances, and college, and provides information about what loans, work study, and other types of aid they might be eligible for. You may be unaware of factors that affect how much financial assistance you are eligible for, such as changes to your parents’ income or your job status, or having a sibling start college. This is why it is important to fill out a new FAFSA application annually.
Make Sure the Information Is Accurate
Although it can be a chore to track down exact amounts (and it is so much easier to estimate things like your parents’ or your income), failure to provide accurate numbers can mean that you may not qualify for all the financial assistance you’re actually eligible for. Before you fill out the FAFSA form, be sure you have collected and have handy all the important information you’ll need. This includes your (and your parents’) tax forms, social security number, and income statements. The U.S. Department of Education’s Site for Federal Student Aid has more tips on how to effectively fill out your application.
Ask Your High School and College
If you’re still in high school or if you’ve recently graduated, ask your guidance counselor about grants and scholarships you could apply for. Your college will also be a good resource, since most institutions have their own scholarships and awards that are available to their students.
Ask Your Community
Check to see if your employer, place of worship, clubs, or volunteer organizations have any grant or scholarship opportunities. Although these sources may not offer as much as federal loans or college scholarships, they may help you cover the costs of books and/or supplies.
Check Due Dates
Whether you’re filling out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) or applying for scholarships, most organizations will have deadlines which you must meet–they are not flexible dates. These deadlines help ensure that if you are eligible, you will receive your financial assistance in time for the upcoming school year. If other people are helping you with your application—for example, teachers writing letters of recommendation for you—be sure to inform them of the deadlines and give them plenty of notice. The more time you give those helping you, the more time they’ll have to write good recommendations.
Write Strong Essays
Many scholarship applications will have an essay component. You can assume that the other students applying for a particular scholarship also meet the basic requirements (a certain GPA or above, certain demographic criteria, etc.), so often it isn’t enough to just have good grades or be “eligible” for a scholarship: the essay can be what really sets you apart. When you write application essays, make sure you have the time to write multiple drafts. You should also have family, friends, or teachers provide feedback as you go through revisions.